He committed perhaps the biggest mistake of the day, one that gave away Bethel’s lead and appeared likely to puncture his football team’s unbeaten season. So Brandon Marquardt was beyond relieved when he also broke away for a game-changing touchdown, one that sparked the Royals’ comeback to a dramatic 28-21 victory over St. Thomas on Saturday.
But he might as well face it — he is going to hear a lot more about the fumble than the touchdown catch this week.
“We weren’t trying to make him feel good,” Royals coach Steve Johnson deadpanned about giving Marquardt a chance to redeem himself for a fumbled kickoff. “We’ll go make fun of him later.”
The junior from Champlin Park probably won’t mind, not after the Royals (6-0, 4-0 MIAC) scored a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown from Marshall Klitzke and knocked off — and likely knocked out, as far as the NCAA Division III playoffs are concerned — the Tommies, a game that Marquardt says “we kind of put up on a pedestal.”
That pedestal is where St. Thomas was expected to be, one year after reaching the D-III championship game. Now, the Tommies (4-2, 2-2) are left to wonder if a route to the postseason even exists.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it, it hurts,” coach Glenn Caruso said. “I know [the postseason is] not in our control. But this needs to give us great motivation to be better.”
They were better than Bethel for one quarter Saturday, and it looked like it might be enough. The Royals grinded out a 14-0 halftime lead in the rain, then gave it all away in less than 10 minutes in the third quarter.
Tommies sophomore Jack Gilliland, on a reverse, took the second-half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to cut the Royals’ lead in half, and when Marquardt coughed up the ensuing kickoff, St. Thomas running back Jack Kaiser needed only 27 yards over five rushes to reach the end zone and tie the score.
Bethel’s next possession lasted only three plays, ending with an interception by Dan Ferrazzo, and the Tommies methodically marched 56 yards to take the lead on Kaiser’s second score.
But Bethel didn’t fold. “We have a saying — ‘What’s next, baby?’ Good or bad, ‘What’s next?’ ” Johnson said. “And that’s what the guys were saying.”
Especially Marquardt. With just under seven minutes to play and 27 yards from the end zone, Erik Peterson found him near the left sideline on a short pass. He burst into the clear and leaped into the end zone, touching the pylon as he was being tackled. “I didn’t know if he was going to take me up high or low. Once he went low, I said jump and hope you end in” the end zone, Marquardt said.
With 6:44 to play and Kaiser, who finished with 140 rushing yards on 32 carries, helping the Tommies hold the ball, Johnson called for a two-point conversion. But Peterson was stopped just short of the goal line, leaving Bethel down a point.
The Royals defense stiffened, though, forcing a punt on the next drive to set up a winning march — after a pass-interference penalty in the end zone, Klitzke scored on a 2-yard charge up the middle with 40 seconds to go — and then tackling St. Thomas receiver Dan Noehring 8 yards short of the end zone on the game’s final play.